NTSB Calls for Breathalyzers in All New Cars

On a day when Vladimir Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons in his war again Ukraine and New York's attorney general sued Donald Trump and his family for $250 million alleging fraud in various financial filings, and the Federal Reserve raised interest rates another 0.75 basis points (and signaled there's more to come), the National Transportation Safety Board called for alcohol detection systems in all new cars.

That's news.  Until now, NTSB, which may be the most anti-alcohol agency in Washington, has called for alcohol ignition interlock devices, which prevent cars from being driven, only for people who have been convicted of driving  while intoxicated.  It has also recommended lowering the blood alcohol concentration limit to 0.05 BAC or lower and improved drug toxicology testing.

The NTSB used a 2021 New Year's Day crash in Avenal, Calif., as its justification for the call.  NTSB can call for the move, but it cannot require the installation of the devices.  

The crash, which killed nine people, was described by NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy as "heartbreaking" and one that "technology could've prevented" involved a sport utility vehicle (SUV) and a pickup truck.  The SUV driver

The SUV's driver lost control of his vehicle.  A blood-alcohol test found his blood alcohol concentration was more than double California’s per se legal limit of 0.08 grams per deciliter."  He also had used cannabis, but the NTSB said it was "unable to determine whether the effects of cannabis use contributed to the driver’s impairment."  

Why couldn't it determine whether cannabis use contributed to the driver's impairment?  The "postmortem toxicology testing of the blood specimens conducted by the laboratory contracted by the Fresno County medical examiner did not include screening for cannabis."  

So, in reality, the NTSB did not know whether it was alcohol or cannabis or a combination of the two that caused the driver to lose control of his vehicle.  Since it was only a couple of decades ago that BAC levels of 0.15% were legal, and crashes such as this were rare, we're going to speculate that cannabis played an critical role in the crash.

The NTSB investigators themselves placed significant blame on speed.  The speed limit when the accident occurred was 55; the SUV was travelng between 64 and 70 mph.  "The SUV driver’s high rate of speed contributed to the crash severity and lack of survivability for occupants of both vehicles," the report said.

What caused the crash?  Two factors -- alcohol and cannabis together -- the report suggested.  Why didn't anyone survive?  Speed, the report suggested.  But the NTSB chose to blame alcohol alone when it issued its recommendation Wednesday.